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Youth Serve as Peace Facilitators in Switzerland

July 30, 2010

From World Council of Churches
While peace is a commonly held value within Judaism, Islam and Christianity, other religious values can often become sources of conflict. In order to build community beyond faith boundaries a group of young adults from each of the three faith groups spent a week focusing on the common value of peace recently. The result? Each of them will return to their homes as qualified peace facilitators. Participating in the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland month-long summer course called “Building an Interfaith Community” the 32 participants from 20 countries forged a sense of community out of their religious diversity. A new dimension to the July course for 2010 included exploring “how to overcome conflict and restore good relations.” “Whether it is visiting a church, synagogue or mosque, or having formal lectures outlining different faith approaches to contemporary issues, or just socializing and enjoying each other’s company – the group is challenged to live together and grow as a community, overcoming stereotypes and preconceived understandings of each other,” says Tara Tautari, programme executive for Education and Ecumenical Formation for the World Council of Churches (WCC).
As the WCC prepares for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in May 2011, it is including peace education in all its formation and educational programmes. For the students of the summer interfaith seminar this meant a 5-day intensive training programme on “Dialogue for Peaceful Change”. The training, which was developed by practitioners working in conflict settings, offered concrete tools for conflict management and effective communication skills for mediators. An international team of trainers taught the students about the role of conflict in human relations and its various and often hidden layers. “Now, one of you will make a proposal and the other will say ‘no’. Then ‘A’ will make another proposal and ‘B’ will say no,” said Ingeberte Uitslag, a peace trainer from the Netherlands during the sessions. “The person I was talking to was deaf and dumb,” Benjamin Adekunle, a participant from Nigeria, said summarizing his feelings after sharing a personal story with a partner who had been asked not to show any facial expression or other reaction to what was said.
“We believe heavily in experiential learning,” says Colin Craig, a Roman Catholic and the senior coach for the training programme. Craig became involved in peace building activities at the times of the “troubles” in his native Northern Ireland and was inspired by the ecumenical Corrymeela Community of lay Christians dedicated to reconciliation work. “It wasn’t so much a pious activity as it was a thrilling activity,” said Craig, who hopes to pass on the enthusiasm he has experienced to the next generation. “You really felt that you were on the edge of something.”
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